In high-density cities, the communication satellite network SpaceX envisions was publicly disclosed in January 2015, with bandwidth capable of carrying up to 50% of all backhaul communications traffic and up to 10% of local Internet traffic. Elon Musk, the company’s CEO, stated that there is a large unmet need for low-cost global internet capabilities. SpaceX announced the opening of a satellite development centre in Redmond in January 2015, in collaboration with partners, to design and build out the new communication network.
At the time, the Seattle-area office aimed to hire around 60 engineers initially, with the possibility of hiring up to 1000 individuals by 2018. By late 2016, the company had leased a 2,800 m2 facility in Redmond and had taken on a second 2,800 m2 site by January 2017. SpaceX consolidated all of its Seattle-area activities in August 2018, moving to a larger three-building site at Redmond Ridge Corporate Center to support satellite manufacturing as well as research and development. SpaceX purchased a 740 m2 creative space in Irvine, California in July 2016. Signal processing, RFIC, and ASIC development for the satellite program would be part of the Irvine office’s responsibilities, according to job listings. By January 2016, the corporation had publicly stated that it planned to launch two prototype satellites in 2016 and have the first satellite constellation in orbit and functioning by 2020.
By October 2016, SpaceX had developed the initial satellites that they hoped to launch and test in 2017, but the satellite division was focusing on a significant business challenge: achieving a sufficiently low-cost design for the user equipment, with the goal of something that could ostensibly be installed easily at end-user premises for around US$200. Overall, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell stated at the time that the project was still in the “design phase” while the company worked to address difficulties with user-terminal affordability. The constellation’s deployment was then slated for “late this decade or early the next”. The FCC granted SpaceX approval in March 2018, subject to certain requirements. The International Telecommunication Union would have to approve SpaceX separately (ITU). The FCC backed a NASA request to push SpaceX to attain an even higher level of de-orbiting reliability than NASA’s own standard of properly de-orbiting 90% of satellites after their missions were over. In May 2018, SpaceX estimated that the constellation’s overall development and deployment costs would be around $10 billion.
In mid-2018, SpaceX revamped its Redmond satellite development business and laid off several senior executives. SpaceX has launched 1,737 Starlink satellites as of May 26, 2021, including the Tintin A and B demo satellites. SpaceX reported in February 2021 that Starlink had over 10,000 users and that pre-orders were now open to the general public and by May 2021 SpaceX announced that they had over 500,000 Starlink orders by consumers and almost 100,000 users in June 2021.